Before I jump into The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I think it's worth taking the time to remember that we still have a lot to play for this season. Coming into the year, most of us thought we would lose at least one of the Georgia, LSU, Florida gauntlet, with the likely loss coming against LSU. In that sense, we're still in position to accomplish our goals if we can bounce back from this game and beat Florida next week in the Swamp and then take care of business against Tennessee and Arkansas. (Don't look now, though, but Arkansas is getting better.) Based on what we saw tonight, I'm not sure that we should feel very confident about the UF game, but, certainly, we're capable of beating the Gators based on what we've seen so far from both teams. The key is and moving on, refocusing, and fixing our problems.
On to tonight's loss to LSU:
Red-zone defense. This could have easily been a blowout win for LSU, but Carolina made some key defensive stops when our backs were against the wall. In an otherwise tough night for the defense, this was the one bright spot.
Not giving up. After blowing our opportunities to put the game away in the fourth quarter, we could have given up and gone home. However, Connor Shaw and the offense put a touchdown on the board to put the game within a score, and the defense got a quick stop to give us a prayer's chance at winning. The team showed fight, and that will hopefully translate into some fire this week in the preparations for Florida.
Run defense. There were a series of problems in this game related to LSU beating us up front on both sides of the ball, and I'm not sure whether any one problem was the central one. However, we'll start with run defense. Coming into this game, the story was that Carolina's defensive line would dominate LSU's offense. However, the Tigers got a great push up front and ran the ball with relative ease, at least until they got on the goal line. Granted, part of the problem was that the offense was never on the field long enough to give the line a breather, but the end result was that our line got whipped in this game.
No pass rush. Again, most people thought Carolina''s front four would put a lot of pressure on Zach Mettenberger in this game, but that didn't happen. The only sack, in fact, came from a linebacker, Shaq Wilson. Jadeveon Clowney was largely controlled in this game. He made some nice plays here and there, but it certainly was a far cry from the way he played last week. Part of the issue was a wise passing gameplan by the Tigers that featured a lot of short passing, but really, we simply got beat by the banged up LSU offensive line.
Third-downs. On both offense and defense, we struggled quite a bit on third downs. On defense, there were several third-and-longs where we let Mettenberger beat us. Pass rush would have helped. On offense, we were 3-13 on third down. Some of the opportunities we missed, especially early, were third-and-short. If we had gotten these, it would have given our defense more time to rest. Third-down performance on both sides had a huge impact on time of possession. LSU dominated there, which might very well have been the key to this game.
Connor Shaw. This was not Shaw's best game, needless to say. After nearly flawless play for three weeks, Shaw made some costly mistakes tonight. At the end of the first half, he slightly overthrew Damiere Byrd on a potential TD pass, and then he threw the wrong route on what likely would have been another TD pass to Bruce Ellington. In the second half, he did his Garcia impression on an errant pass thrown while on the run. These were only some of the mistakes he made tonight. Gotta shake it off, kid.
End-of-half play. Outside of the aforementioned late TD and defensive stop, our play late in the two halves left a lot to be desired. We missed a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half that could have been a difference-maker. At the end of the second half, the onsides kick attempt wasn't even close, and Shaw's two dump passes to Lattimore when we got the ball back with forty seconds left were simply mind-boggling.
Carolina's road play this year. My biggest concern after this game is that we're unable to replicate our strong play at home on the road. This is true for every team to some extent, but it seems like night-and-day for us. After looking every bit like a top-five team in Columbia last week, we looked like a marginal top-25 team in this game that just managed to keep it close against a significantly better team. Of course, Tiger Stadium is a tough place to play at, particularly at night. It might be the toughest road venue in the nation, and needless to say, the place was loud tonight. Perhaps we'll do better in Gainesville, which is a tough venue but not quite on the same level as Red Stick. But consider me worried about our road play.
That's a wrap. More tomorrow.